I was extremely pleased with the two letters received by the Rigpa Sangha on April 11, one announcing Sogyal Rinpoche’s resignation as spiritual director of the organisation, and the other explaining the position of the Rigpa management and how they intended to proceed.
After His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Sogyal Rinpoche had been disgraced and that his students had done the right thing in publicising his unethical behaviour, stepping down was the only way to give Rigpa, the organisation, a chance to continue without continuing to be tainted by Sogyal Rinpoche’s unethical actions into the future. Now that he has done this, it is clearly the students’ responsibility to clean up the organisation. Rinpoche suggested that Rigpa could continue by bringing a range of teachers to the West from all the Tibetan traditions, a direction I always saw as the way forward for the organisation. So I feel this is very good.
I know that some are disappointed that there is still no admission of harm from Rinpoche, but the legal implications of doing so make any public apology not a wise move for him. I think we need to understand this. I hope that personally, however, for his sake as well as for those harmed, that he will come to understand that he has caused harm. I would be very happy should I ever hear that he was doing a Vajrasattva retreat, for that would indicate that he has realised and was undertaking purification practice, which includes the practice of regret, reparation, and a vow never to repeat the harmful actions. Such a move would be very good for his health and for those who need some acknowledgement that he feels regret, not regret that this had been exposed (which is all that has been said so far), but regret that he acted improperly.
Some will be disturbed by Sogyal Rinpoche’s statement that “I will continue to share teachings with you and to guide you, while on my retreat, and beyond.” They are concerned that he should not be near students, at least until the code of ethics is in place. However, I understand that others would be devastated to think that he may not teach again. Video teachings are probably fine. Saying that he will still guide the sangha, however, could be seen as a contradiction to the point of his resignation as spiritual director. It also casts doubt on the authenticity of his ‘retreat.’
As for the letter from the Rigpa Management: it is wonderful to finally have some definite directions. They tell us that they “are fully resolved to meet this difficult situation responsibly, sensitively, head-on, and in a way that is completely consistent with the teachings and the spiritual values that we uphold.” Wonderful. It would be nice to see that same resolve from everyone in the sangha, because one of the reasons I’m no longer part of Rigpa is the vicious behaviour I have been subjected to by some members of the sangha, and the blatant misuse of teachings with the sole purpose of defending the indefensible.
It is a pity that ethics wasn’t specifically mentioned because some members of the sangha seem to believe that ‘spiritual values’ in Rigpa do not include ethics. However, Mingyur Rinpoche makes it clear in his article in The Lion’s Roar that ethics are the foundation of the path, and I hope that the Rigpa management will make sure that all students have access to this article so that those who are presently unclear on this will give his clear teaching on the matter the respect it deserves.
They also say they must “seek to resolve it in the best way possible for all concerned, including those who feel aggrieved.” For those who do feel wounded or hurt (don’t we all?) to feel that it has been resolved in the best possible way, they will need to talk to some people who have already left the organisation. I am heartened that I actually did receive the communication through a Rigpa source. This and their later statement that “it is important that you, too, are consulted and have the opportunity to give feedback” indicates that everyone has a role in making sure that this is dealt with in a satisfactory manner.
People will be waiting, but they will also be watching. Rigpa must be totally transparent as they move forward on this. Unfortunately, recent reports of Sogyal Rinpoche’s most senior student delivering only partial information, and therefore a distorted view, to the sangha at Lerab Ling does not give one faith that those who have been running the organisation for years, have known about the abuse, and have covered it up are about to change their ways. His Holiness said on the 1st August 2017 “Sogyal Rinpoche, my friend, but he disgraced.” All that was quoted during a retreat at Lerab Ling was “Sogyal Rinpoche, my friend.” Some students need to consider whether it might be best for the future of Rigpa that they also resign.
I was hearted to hear that management intends to “establish an independent investigation of the allegations of abuse … a neutral third party is needed to fully respond to the concerns raised and to lay a foundation for restoring trust and confidence in the Rigpa community.” This is a very good move. An outside perspective will be very helpful. I look forward to finding out who this organisation will be. The word ‘investigation’ is a bit of a concern; ‘examination’ would have avoided legal connotations. I hope there is no hidden intention to try to prove the allegations aren’t true. We are beyond that now. All that would do is cause further suffering and more conflict in the sangha. I know through having had a conversation with one such person that there are students willing to outright lie about abuse that they have witnessed. I hope that whatever this organisation is that they will be able to adequately ascertain the cultural aspects that allowed the abuse to happen and help institute the kind of cultural change required to prevent a reoccurrence.
At last we have a commitment to “a code of conduct and a grievance process for Rigpa … the codes of conduct will be multiple and apply to students, staff and volunteers, as well as teachers, without exception.” Excellent.
The institution of ‘a new ‘spiritual body’ to guide an advise Rigpa is also a necessary move. I look forward to finding out who is on it. I hope the management team will ask Mingyur Rinpoche whose clarity and understanding of the issues is impressive, and I hope they will have the wisdom not to ask Orgyan Tobyal, whose advice is contrary to that given by His Holiness the Dalia Lama, and who people have reason to believe has his own reasons for squashing criticism of abusive behaviour.
Now I am content to sit back and wait and see. I wish Rigpa well, and hope that this clear direction from the management team will set about the basis for healing the rift in the sangha. I’m truly sorry that it happened in the first place and I apologise for anything I may have said that was perceived as hurtful. I will always love and honour Soygyal Rinpoche for the benefit he has brought me and others, but I remain committed to ensuring that no student is ever in a position to be abused again. I take this stance because I believe it is in the best interests all concerned, including Rinpoche.
Written by a senior Rigpa student.
Not everyone feels content to wait and see. Some wonder if they can trust these announcements and the senior students currently representing Rigpa. Read more responses here: More Students Respond to the Latest Plans from Rigpa: “Not Ready to Trust.“
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